Robots for Change: Youth Use New Skills in Innovative Ways

Blumont teams are using education and innovation to re-instill hope for a better future among young refugees living in Za’atari Camp.

Marwan, a Syrian refugee living at Za’atari Camp in Jordan since 2013, wanted to share his experience.

When he lived in Syria, Marwan earned a degree in Economy and Commerce and had great ambitions for his career. Plans changed as conflict forced him from his home, and he arrived at the Za’atari Camp in Jordan. Over the years, he always sought ways to share his knowledge and experience with young refugees at the camp.

When the UNHCR-Innovation Lab opened at Za’atari in 2019, Marwan found an opportunity. The Lab, filled with high-tech machinery, robotics, and other specialized equipment, offers young people a place to explore as they build technical and entrepreneurial skills. As the Innovation Lab Coordinator, Marwan now teaches courses on digital production, coding and programming, robotics, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

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Pictured: Marwan

“We do our best to create a safe space for each student to feel valued and appreciated. Students feel so proud after completing a prototype, graduating a course, or training other students,” Marwan said. “This sense of accomplishment helps them adapt to life away from their home countries, be productive, and pay knowledge forward.”

“I always think about my future and I hope to be a very successful community member when I grow up. Seeing successful people around me, like coach Marwan, inspires me to work hard and inspire others,” said Mays, a 16-year-old female student who takes robotics courses at the lab.

Courses at the Innovation Lab are often led by young trainers who are studying technical fields at local universities. Sameh, a 21-year-old Za’atari resident, volunteers at the center while pursuing a degree in Renewable Energy Engineering.

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Pictured: Sameh

“The fact that I help shape students’ minds and expand their knowledge makes volunteering worth the effort. I learn as much from them as they learn from me,” Sameh said. “We discover new things every day, which also benefit me in my studies and encourage me to continue doing what I’m doing.”

As students explore technology, they are also developing their social, creative, and critical thinking skills.

“The Innovation Lab is not only a place where students take courses and leave, but also serves as a place that helps them in their practical life to be valuable members of their community,” Marwan said.

“I used to avoid mingling with people. The courses gave me a great chance to change this,” shared Eman, a 15-year-old student. “My personality changed when I met inspiring people here and we became a big family. I now feel a great sense of responsibility towards myself and my society.”

“I now feel that nothing is impossible. Where there is a will, there is a way. The more you believe in your goals the closer you get to achieving them,” said Yaqeen, a 14-year-old student at the Lab who added that she one day hopes to become a computer engineer.

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Pictured: Eman
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Pictured: Yaqeen

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the team looked to technology for creative solutions that could help keep their community safe from the spread of illness. Their creation was a hands-free, motion-activated robot that dispensed hand sanitizer—all made completely from Legos. The robot also says, “thank you” and makes a sound once it is finished dispensing the sanitizer. The robot was placed strategically at the Innovation Lab entrance to allow members to disinfect their hands as they enter and exit the building.

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Image taken by UNHCR

When asked why the team used Legos to build the robot, Marwan replied: “Legos are affordable and easy to find. We want to teach our students that they can recycle common materials available to them in innovative ways that can help the community.”

Stories about the robot were shared by UNHCR and were picked up by both local news and global organizations, including the World Economic Forum. Students and trainers at the Innovation Lab are proud of the success and popularity of their invention.

“The other day I was at the barber shop where someone pointed at me saying, ‘this is the guy who invented the hand sanitizer robot!’ This made me feel so proud and gave me a sense of achievement,” said Yaseen, a 23-year-old Innovation Lab trainer majoring in Computer Science at a local university.

“I was mainly responsible for coding the hand sanitizer robot and training students how to code similar robots,” said Sameh. “We were so excited when we saw the media coverage for our robot!”

The Innovation Lab team continues looking for new ways to creatively solve common problems. As temperatures reach higher than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in Jordan, the team developed a solar-powered automatic fan to help people cool off during the summer heat.

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Image taken by UNHCR
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Marwan, Mays, and Yaseen working together on new inventions in the Innovation Lab

“We want to show everyone that refugees are part of the world. We are aware of what goes on around us and we can help make a change, even in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Marwan.